World Storm Surge Record Set to Fall? Aberrant Ita Prepares to Slam Queensland With 155+ mph Winds After Spurring Historic Solomon Islands Flooding

 

Super intense ITA off Australia

(Another Case of Near-Perfect Symmetry. Super-intense ITA strengthens to a super-intense 155 mph storm off Australia on April 10. Image source: NOAA)

The ghosts of record Pacific Ocean heat content may well be coming back to haunt us…

Very powerful near Category 5 Ita is now bearing down on the Australian Coastline. Regions near where the center makes landfall, projected to be near Cape Flattery, could experience 155 mph sustained winds with gusts in excess of 185 mph and storm surges in excess of 25 feet. Interests throughout North Queensland should remain abreast of what is a very powerful and dangerous storm capable of producing record or near record effects.

(For reference, a category 5 storm has a wind speed intensity of 156 mph or greater.)

*    *    *    *    *

An outrider of an El Nino pattern that appears to be gradually emerging and strengthening in the Tropical Pacific, Ita had her stormy beginnings near the archipelago of the Solomon Islands. There, what at first started as a tropical disturbance dumped three days of torrential rainfall over the island chain, setting off worst-ever floods on record, washing away hundreds of buildings, and leaving more than 50,000 people homeless.

Major rainfall events are not uncommon in the Solomons. But what occurred as a result of current and abnormally intense heat-spurred Pacific Ocean convection is. For the massive shield of thunderstorms that spawned Ita also dumped one meter (1000 mm or 39.4 inches) of rainfall during a three day period over some sections of this tropical island chain. The far-reaching floods ruined roads, bridges, buildings and forced the cessation of strip mining operations in interior sections.

Solomon Islands ITA

(Thunderstorms associated with the newly forming Ita boil over the Solomon Islands on April 3rd and 4th. Some locales received single-day rainfall totals in excess of 18 inches with three day measures topping 1 meter. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The Solomon Islands lie just east of New Guinea and are on the southern edge of what is currently a very deep, hot pool of water — one that appears to be in the process of rushing eastward. There, over waters ranging from 85 to 87 degrees Fahrenheit (29-30 degrees Celsius, or about 1-2 C above average), Ita had her genesis in a shield of convection forming along the hot pool’s southern flank.

Slow Westward Trek

After lingering for days over the Solomons, Ita gradually shifted southwestward, churning  on into the Coral Sea and reaching category 1 intensity by April 8th. Water temperatures throughout the region remained well in excess of 80 degrees, more than enough to fuel rapid intensification. By late April 9th, many models showed Ita potentially reaching category 4 or 5 intensity before roaring into northern Queensland.

Concerns were raised about both projected storm intensity and projected track. Clockwise circulation of a slow-moving but very powerful storm could pile a very significant storm surge along the Queensland cities of Port Douglas and Cairns. Northern locations could experience very intense and prolonged storm conditions including heavy rainfall, extreme coastal flooding, and winds in the range of 90 to 155+ mph over a tightly compact zone.

Cape Flattery, Cooktown and Port Douglas, sparsely populated towns of between 2,000 and 3,000 residents, respectively, are likely to bear the brunt of the storm. But Cairns lies only a little further south along the storm track and boasts fully 150,000 residents — a more densely populated region that could also see extreme impacts.

Bombification

By early April 10th, favorable environs and extremely warm water temperatures in the Coral Sea had resulted in the rapid intensification predicted. By 1600 Eastern Time in the US, Ita had bombed out to a 155 mph monster storm with a lowest central pressure around 921 mb, exploding from a Category 1 to a near Category 5 storm in less than 48 hours, as it headed toward the Australian coastline at an excruciatingly slow pace of 6 mph SSW forward motion.

It’s worth noting that a 921 mb reading is very low and may justify a new winds speed of closer to 165 mph or more considering how compact this storm. Early model runs had projected peak intensity at 920 mb and around 165 mph wind speeds. That said, ITA remains over open water and retains a very compact wind field, so further intensification is possible before land interference begins to disrupt circulation.

Even now, conditions may seem disturbingly tranquil along the coastline. Winds there are currently running in the range of about 20-30 mph. But gale force winds lurk about 100 miles offshore and the intense, hurricane force, winds are not fare behind. The most intense winds, of up to 155 mph sustained with 185 mph gusts, are in a tight band just about 10-20 miles from the center. It is regions within this band of clockwise onshore flow where most damaging effects are likely to be witnessed.

ITA projected path

(Most recent projected path of Ita. It’s worth noting that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology puts Ita at 907 mb and Category 5 status. This conflicts with NOAA’s 921 mb estimate. Image source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.)

Ita is expected to maintain Category 4-5 intensity all the way through to land-fall sometime tomorrow. As such, storm surge flooding in excess of 25 feet is likely near where the center makes landfall. A storm of similar strength, Typhoon Mahina, brought a 45 foot storm surge ashore near Bathurst Bay in 1899. It is the same region where Ita is expected to make landfall sometime tomorrow.

This storm surge of 45 feet ties Bangladesh for the highest storm surge on record anywhere in the world.

Mahina made landfall with a minimum central pressure of 914 mb. Ita would only need to drop another 10 mb to exceed that mark. But, if it does, a world storm surge record could be set to fall.

UPDATE: Ita shows some slight weakening in both satellite and pressure estimates. Pressures (NOAA) as of about 7 PM were around 926 mb with maximum sustained winds still estimated in the range of 150 to 155 mph. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology maintains ITA at 907 mb and CAT 5. Still a very powerful storm.

UPDATE: As of 9 PM EST, US, Ita continued to show some signs of slight weakening. NOAA now shows Ita as a 931 mb storm, while Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology puts it at 914 mb. No cause for comfort, as yet, since these pressure estimates are well within the range of a strong CAT 4 or CAT 5 storm.

Perhaps more ominous, however, is a slight job to the south. Too early to call but if a more southerly track continues, locations such as Cairns may be in for more of an impact. Still too early to call.

ITA gale force winds on shore

As per the recent VMAX wind profile Ita’s gale force winds are now on shore. Measurements are in knots. In this measure maximum sustained winds are just into CAT 5 status (138 kts). Image source is NOAA.

UPDATE: Slow strength degradation continues pushing Ita into strong CAT 4 status. NOAA shows 937 mb and ABM shows 922 mb at 11 PM. Wind strength remains between 145 and 150 mph max sustained. Southward jog continues as it appears possible Ita may skirt the coast.

UPDATE: Ita came ashore as a Category 4 storm with effective one minute sustained winds in excess of 135 mph and a ten minute sustained wind of 120 mph near Cape Flattery in Queensland. Pressures at landfall were in the range of 935 to 948 mb. Ita has continued to track just inland and is now just west of Cooktown. Interaction with land has continued to degrade Ita, which as of 12 PM EST was estimated at Category 3 intensity.

 

Links:

Australian Bureau of Meteorology

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA

ITA Heads for Australian Landfall

ITA Public Advisory

ITA Wrecks Havoc in Solomon Islands

Beastly ITA

Monster Kelvin Wave Emerging in the Pacific

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30 Comments

  1. Pressures seem to have risen somewhat. NOAA now showing 926 mb. Satellite maps appear to show a bit less organization. Too soon to confirm a slight downgrade.

    Reply
    • Phil

       /  April 11, 2014

      Latest BOM track map has ITA as high end Category 4 cyclone (using Australian definitions which differ from those used in USA):

      http://www.bom.gov.au/products/IDQ65002.shtml

      The real threat is if it hugs the coast. Are high mountains inland from Cooktown – Cairns – Townsville and the expectation is that they will play havoc with lower levels of the cyclone leading to rapid loss of strength over land. Time will tell.

      Its size is quite small compared with Cyclone Yasi but what there is of it is very intense.

      Reply
      • Mark Archambault

         /  April 11, 2014

        Heavy rains falling in those mountains would flow down streams and rivers on the east side of that peninsula, correct? If so, Cairns may get hurricane force winds, storm surge and flooding from the highlands to its west.

      • Mountain interaction and rainfall may be the biggest concern for Cairns. Will have to see.

    • Phil

       /  April 11, 2014

      Latest details of ITA from BOM http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/wrap_fwo.pl?IDQ20023.txt (from about 40 minutes ago):

      Details of Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita at 1:00 pm EST:
      .Centre located near…… 14.1 degrees South 145.6 degrees East
      .Location accuracy…….. within 15 kilometres
      .Recent movement………. towards the south southwest at 12 kilometres per hour
      .Wind gusts near centre… 295 kilometres per hour
      .Severity category…….. 5
      .Central pressure……… 931 hectoPascals

      Central pressure is pretty low for Cyclones in this neck of the woods.

      Reply
  2. james cole

     /  April 11, 2014

    They are awaiting the worst in the Australian media! “AS dawn lights the historic hamlet of Cooktown this morning, ­locals will emerge from their homes and the locked-down emergency shelter dreading what they will see: a wasteland of smashed trees, debris and churned mud left by one of the worst cyclones in living memory.” From the Australian just now. Also says that any pre 1985 structures not built to the modern codes are likely to suffer extreme destruction! 2014 starting off with a bang? Not to mention Siberian fires already underway early.

    Reply
  3. Odds that global warming is due to natural factors: Slim to none
    Date:
    April 11, 2014
    Source:
    McGill University
    Summary:

    An analysis of temperature data since 1500 all but rules out the possibility that global warming in the industrial era is just a natural fluctuation in the earth’s climate, according to a new study.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140411153453.htm

    Reply
  4. Mississippi Basin Water Quality Declining Despite Conservation

    U.S. federal scientists say water quality has declined in the massive Mississippi River Basin in recent years due to the combined effects of agricultural and urban infrastructure, despite decades of conservation efforts. That’s a concern both for those who rely on the river system and for those downstream on the Gulf of Mexico, where a huge “dead zone” hurts fishing and recreational opportunities.

    Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sampled the main stem and four tributaries of the Mississippi River and found that levels of nitrate increased at more than half the sites from 1980 to 2010. Overall, nitrate levels increased by 14 percent during that period, the USGS reported in a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill Friday.

    Link

    Reply
    • We appear to be kicking the transition to a stratified ocean into higher gear through agriculture and runoff than even our rapid paced warming would typically effect. The unregulated monied interest based economy is nothing short of an epic failure.

      Reply
  5. Trawling for Trash across the Pacific Ocean

    He realized he would raise more money with a more ambitious journey, so he decided to attempt an expedition no one had ever completed before – sailing non-stop around the Americas. What he observed during his trip inspired him to start the Ocean Research Project in August 2012. “I saw so much plastic junk out in the ocean – buckets and crates – it got so frustrating,” he said. His organization’s mission is to collect data on environmental problems in the oceans .- See more at: Link

    Reply
    • Sorry , here’s the headline :
      Showtime brings realities of Texas drought home to millions
      It may seem like only yesterday that Texans were asked to conserve water after another scorching summer, but in reality it was four, dry years ago. The drought, which began in 2010 after La Niña altered sea level temperatures in the Pacific, continues to persist in the Lone Star State and promises to surpass the state’s record-setting multi-year drought from the 1950s. Ranchers have been forced to sell off cattle, town water supplies continue to go dry, and power plants struggle to provide a reliable supply of electricity due to water scarcity and long stretches of hot weather. Given these bleak conditions, it should not come as a surprise that 70 percent of Texans believe global warming is happening—and 52 percent said they have personally experienced the effects of global warming.

      Reply
      • Hmm. So why do so many of these 70 percent still vote for climate change denier republicans? The disconnect here is pretty extreme. If people still want viable livelihoods then they need to tip their hat to working together to try and preserve some of what we have, to try and prevent as much harm as possible. Texan and southwest ag may well be in for massive shrinkage, but it *might* be possible to save a sliver through rapid action.

        Right now, we’re still a bunch of sleepwalkers shuffling along to the tune of those who wish to maintain a destructive status quo.

      • As the Texan say , we’re getting down to the nut cutin’ . Because the drought has never left. If this summer is as hot as the last 4 years . Texas and Syria will have much in common.

      • The pattern has changed somewhat. Texas may actually have a shot at some storms this year. Will have to see how summer develops.

        NOAA shows drought improvement for East Texas, continuation for Central Texas and continued worsening for West Texas. West Texas is the direction from which trouble tends to arise.

  6. Floods: Holding back the tide

    With the Ganges–Brahmaputra delta sinking, the race is on to protect millions of people from future flooding

    A big article in Nature –

    http://www.nature.com/news/floods-holding-back-the-tide-1.15013

    Reply
  7. Hmm. So why do so many of these 70 percent still vote for climate change denier republicans?

    Watch the 1st “Years of Living Dangerously” , nobody have gone to them and explained the system to them in the terms they can understand.

    Reply
    • Texans and people in the Ganges–Brahmaputra delta are about 2 degrees from stupid.

      One must speak to each , in the language they understand.

      Reply
    • It’s pretty simple. Republicans serve money lock,stock and barrel. Democrats tend to do what they can to fight the trend but get swamped by the nonsense and stupidity. Reinforcements are needed to reverse a negative trend.

      Reply
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